Transforming: from a 5 year plan to NOW

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In the last year, I have been undergoing a considerable career change and transformation to coaching and training. This blog series will talk about the different stages of that change, how it came about and what I’ve learned from the experience so far. Three years ago, I was still dreaming of making a change without a clue how to go about it. I’ve come a long way baby, but there is still a long, long way to go!

Two years ago, I was a Marketing Director at IBM. I was financially secure for the first time in my life. Even though I was happy with where I was in my career, I knew I ultimately wanted to do something different, more meaningful to me. I started establishing life priorities 15 years ago and this was a big one. I was excited to start working towards a five-year plan to transform my life. And then, three things happened to turn my world upside down.

Financial obligations

The first thing happened the year before. My daughter, a sophomore at Furman University, decided to go ROTC. This was, of course, influenced by the potential size of her student loans when she left school. But it was also fueled by her deep desire to serve. This decision took a major financial burden off my shoulders. Now I could start paying off loans and saving for retirement. I started to consolidate my debt and looking for ways to be debt free within five years.

Work location

The second thing that happened was the announcement of co-location at IBM. For 9 years I worked remotely, from home, in Tampa. My son and daughter-in-law, and 2-year old grandson, lived 2 miles from our home. I loved everything about living in Florida. Although I was unhappy to move over 16 hours away by car, it seemed like the right thing to do. I figured I could squeeze that 5-year plan into a 2 or 3-year plan and then come back home. It all logically made sense. We put the house up for sale and found a buyer. I was ultra-focused on the financial aspects of it all.

Job obligations

In parallel, I took on a new role at work, completely out of my comfort zone. Well, that was something I had done plenty of times before. No big deal. But this time, so much was different. A couple months in, I went to a conference for women in channels in Napa Valley. It was the closest thing to a perk I had ever gotten in my career and it should have been an uplifting experience. I met one amazing, passionate female peer after another. Almost all of them had been in channels for most of their careers. I went home completely broken.

It took me a long time to figure out why that conference brought me to my knees. I was impressed with the knowledge and passion of the women I met, but I was not motivated. On the contrary, I was heart-broken. Not because I feared I could not get up that learning curve. That’s my specialty – of course I could! I realized that success would be contingent not only on getting up that learning curve, but by continuous learning once I had “caught up”. Realistically, in the fast-moving technology industry where tools, standards and working methods are constantly in churn, continuous learning is an absolute must. It would take me months of intense, time-consuming effort inside and out of working hours. There would be little room in my life for pursuing my true passion.

Where’s the passion?

What struck me to the bone when I left that conference was that I did not have a natural passion for IT, even after over 20 years. I could LEARN to care about it, as I had in every other role I held, but my heart wasn’t in it. Making that kind of effort again seemed like a waste of time at 50 years old. I was so focused on the logistics of moving, the chaotic environment at work and the details, that I had stopped listening to my heart.

The heart is all well and good, but most of us, me included, work for our paychecks first, not our hearts. My paycheck had become sparkly and comfortable and I could not imagine parting from it. I had spent 22 years of sweat, blood and tears to make it to Director. I had barely had time to appreciate it. And hey, I had a PLAN! But the higher the pay, the higher the commitment needed to earn it. And somehow, I finally realized that I was no longer willing or able to give that commitment, especially far away from my family.

Putting it all together

I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I had a plan to find out and work towards it step by step. Too bad life doesn’t work that way. At the bottom of my despair, broken by the prospect of leaving my family and throwing myself in the new job, I realized that one of my life priorities had changed while I wasn’t looking. My financial priorities had shifted from immediate support for my children’s future, to future support for our retirement. Even though I still had obligations and food to put on the table, I no longer needed to earn as much money to take care of my family.

Of course, more is better. Having a financial security blanket is important – and by the way, it can be a crucial element to succeeding in transforming your career. But we didn’t need new cars every three years. We didn’t need a big house. We didn’t need fancy restaurants and expensive vacations. Being close to my family, being there physically in my grandson’s life, was more important to me than the paycheck. What I needed and wanted was a new direction.

But how to get there? I had no clue what I really wanted to do……. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series where I will talk about narrowing down the field of possibilities and getting started in a new direction.